Melanie Ortiz was a poet, advocate for those with disabilities, organizer for tenant rights, and member of our extended family at Southwest Solutions.
Melanie died on Saturday, September 24 of cancer. She was 59 years old. She is survived by her son Angelo, his wife Rose, and their three young children.
“My mother truly lived by the commandment that you should treat others like you yourself would want to be treated,” Angelo said after a memorial celebration of Melanie’s life held at our Go-Getters Drop-in Center on Thursday (9/29).
Melanie was an active participant at Go-Getters, which serves those recovering from mental illness and those who are homeless. Melanie considered Go-Getters to be her home away from home. Go-Getters is located in the same building that housed our Fisher Clubhouse program, and Melanie was a Clubhouse member and wrote articles for its newsletter.
Melanie volunteered with our Fund Development and Public Affairs department, and was particularly close with Mary Madigan, our Fund Development Manager.
“So many of our supporters were first introduced to our organization through Melanie, who often spoke at our Be Part of the Solution events,” Mary said. “She had so many gifts that she was determined to use to make the world a better place. Melanie spoke up for the marginalized, for those who cannot speak up for themselves. My life is immeasurably richer because of our friendship.”
Melanie spoke at our Solutions at Sunrise fundraising event in 2008. She read a moving poem she wrote about her struggle with mental illness, her sense of identity, and her strong relationships with consumers and staff at Southwest Solutions. In a section of poem, she said:
My present shines bright
For far from sublimating
Or denying my mental illness
I embrace it in all
Its fancies and foibles
My future also looks rosy
As I embrace a new tomorrow
While living in the now…
For all my experiences
And assistance received
I offer heartfelt thanks
After her remarks, Melanie received a standing ovation from the audience of about 600.
In the last three years, Melanie worked with Molly Sweeney as part of our citywide initiative to organize tenants to improve conditions in their apartment buildings, including the one in which Melanie lived. Melanie served as the disability advocate.
“Melanie was one of the most caring individuals I have ever met,” Molly said. At the memorial celebration, Molly read a poem Melanie wrote to describe her tenant-organizing mission. She entitled it “Common Bond”:
United in purpose
With different abilities
And disparate needs
We are the forgotten ones
For we are a formidable presence
With shields of steel
Doe Randall lives in same apartment building as Melanie, and they became good friends in the course of their advocacy efforts. Doe also spoke at the memorial and described Melanie’s passion to make a difference and make the most of her time. Doe read from another poem by Melanie. It said, in part:
Life is a song melodic and pure
Life is a dance flowing and free
Life is a voice lifting praise
Life is a smile creating the world…
Let us break bread together and be as one.
Melanie published her first book of poems in 2003 called “Pass the Broccoli” and she was working on a second collection. She led a Conversational Spanish class and Schizophrenia Anonymous group at Go-Getters. She also played the congas and sang with the Recovery Band, which began at Go-Getters.
“Melanie’s memory and spirit will always be part of Go-Getters,” said Angelique Harris, a friend and fellow Go-Getters’ consumer, at the memorial